An Entire Year of Doing the Most Good . . . Even in a Pandemic
It’s been an entire year. Twelve months of face masks, social distancing, loss of jobs and loved ones, Zoom calls, COVID tests, vaccinations, adapting to new realities, and waiting for something like “normal” to return. COVID-19 has changed everything.
For The Salvation Army’s Metropolitan Division, the pandemic brought an immediate need to adapt. Our corps community centers quickly suspended in-person programs and church services to ensure the safety of our clients, volunteers, and staff. And we quickly pivoted to address the emergency needs that surfaced in our communities: feeding and financial assistance.
Immediately, most of our corps saw a 300 to 500% increase in the number of people asking for help.
On March 23, the food pantry at our Joliet Corps Community Center served 25 families. One week later, that jumped to 115. The numbers have gone up and remained up from there.
In August, we talked with Lieutenant Dena Smith at our St. Charles (Tri City) Corps Community Center. She and her staff run a fresh food pantry every weekday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Before the coronavirus, we gave out an average of 4,000 items a month,” Lieutenant Dena said. “That’s jumped to 14,000 items a month.”
In partnership with the City of Chicago, we delivered more than 12,000 emergency meal boxes, each containing a week’s worth of food.
The City of Chicago asked our Emergency Disaster Services department to be the lead agency for their feeding task force, providing meals to shelters and emergency meal boxes for individuals and families who were quarantined and had no other access to food.
One of those recipients was Joseph, an Army veteran struggling with meager finances and many health issues. He was so appreciative for the food box delivery that he called the Army and left a voicemail message. “I want to thank The Salvation Army . . . I went two days without food,” was all he was able to get out before breaking down in tears.
From March 2020 to March 2021, we distributed 588,514 bags of groceries at our food pantries.
To protect the health of our clients, staff, and volunteers, we changed our food pantry format. Instead of “shopping” for items they want, food pantry clients now pull up to the curb, where a box of food is placed in their trunk or backseat. Nearly every corps in our division expanded their food pantry hours to meet the rising requests from those struggling to put food on the table for their family.
For seniors who were unable or fearful to leave home, many of our corps delivered groceries. Captain Luis Acosta at our Blue Island Corps Community Center received repeated thanks from one such elderly couple. “Thank you so much for bringing this food,” the husband said. “We expected only cans, but you went far beyond, bringing fresh produce, meat, and rice. My wife is on her second apple already.”
Throughout the pandemic, we provided $1,137,649 in emergency financial grants to make rent or mortgage payments, keeping families in their homes.
For those facing lost wages or jobs due to COVID-19, we gave funds to help pay rent or utility bills so families wouldn’t spiral into poverty and homelessness. Many people who came to us for help had never had to seek assistance before – like Priscilla, a successful therapist finishing her doctoral studies. When COVID-19 led to financial challenges that made paying her rent impossible, she went to our Mayfair Community Church.
The Army provided funds to cover Priscilla’s back rent, removing the heavy weight she had been carrying around for months. “It meant I could finally go to bed and sleep,” she said, on the verge of tears. “Because when you’re worried about where you’re going to live, it’s traumatic. . . To me, The Salvation Army means survival.”
This March, we are grateful – but we aren’t done.
The Army’s immediate, lifesaving response was only possible thanks to the tireless efforts of our officers, staff, and volunteers; the miraculous provision of our all-powerful God; and the generous support of our donors.